Nearly ten years after Downfall came out I’m still not getting bored of watching films about Nazis, and it seems people are continuing to find new ways to help us engage with this extraordinary period of history. It’s only a couple of weeks since I caught up with The Boy With The Striped Pyjamas, a brilliant and devastating take on a young lad’s view of the Reich, and yesterday I went to see Lore, a film that co-incidentally also has the child of a mid-ranking SS officer as its main character. Lore, adapted by director Cate Shortland from Rachel Seiffert’s novel The Dark Room, depicts the struggle of the teenage Hannelore to find sanctuary for her and her younger brothers and sister after they’re abandoned by their parents in a Germany that’s been recently occupied by the Allies, and it’s quite a gruelling watch, though not gratuitously so – the physical discomforts and risks that the children are forced to undergo are matched by the gradual unravelling of Hannelore’s assumptions and conditioning as to the natural order of society.
While Lore and The Boy With… have a lot in common in terms of subject matter they do tackle it in strikingly different ways. Boy deliberately presents itself as something of a fable, with a clear, uncluttered approach that mines its eventual horrible revelations for maximum shock value and doesn’t allow much in the way of moral shades of grey for the audience. Lore on the other hand is messier, and more subjective, and much more concerned with sensual detail and texture. The children often find themselves sheltering in woods, or in decaying outhouses, and everything’s rendered believably muddy and damp and mouldy using cinematography that favours saturated colours and arty short focus. They discover a fair amount of dead and rotting corpses, which the camera lingers on in such close-up that they become almost like abstract art. In order to survive Hannelore has to interact with former model citizens who now seem compromised by greed and ingrained prejudice and finds herself committing to some morally dubious choices, and her old certainties are further eroded when a mysterious young man bearing Jewish identity papers appears and starts to give the group invaluable help in finding food and crossing borders. There’s no particular surprise as to how this dangerous journey to the relative safety of her grandmother’s house will change the young woman, but it’s satisfying to see how convincingly her doubts, inconsistencies and occasional lapses in judgement are shown, and how realistically brutal and unsentimental those scenes are when she does suffer terrible losses and reversals. This is a tough film, and not exactly family entertainment, but it rings true.